Thursday, February 23, 2017

Simon, Not So Pure

Film: Chapter Two
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve had Chapter Two sitting on my DVR for just over two years. There are a lot of reasons I didn’t want to pull the trigger on it. I’m not in love with the work of Neil Simon for starters. I also generally don’t think a great deal of Marsha Mason as an actress; I find her generally unappealing and frustrating. Still, I had to get through it eventually, and removing the oldest movie has at least a psychological benefit.

Here’s the other thing about Marsha Mason, though. I’ve now seen three of her Best Actress-nominated performances. In The Goodbye Girl, she plays an aging, unsuccessful actress in a Neil Simon romantic comedy. In Only When I Laugh, she plays a recovering alcoholic actress trying to reestablish her relationship with her daughter in a Neil Simon dramedy. Wedged between those two performances is this one, where she plays a relatively successful stage actress in a romantic dramedy penned by Neil Simon. Are you sensing a pattern here? I sure as hell am. I wonder if Marsha Mason can do anything aside from playing a stage actress in a script written by Neil Simon.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Game

Film: The Game
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

The Game isn’t really a horror film at all despite my placing this as a part of watching horror movies on Wednesday. I’m kind of forced to label it thus, though, because it does appear on one of my horror lists. In reality, this is almost a pure psychological thriller, and it’s a pretty good one. This is something that more or less wants to sit the audience down and screw the viewers’ heads until the final credits roll. That’s pretty much it.

In this case, our main character/victim is Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas), a wealthy banker/investment manager type who has a very specific and regimented life. As the film starts, Nicholas is experiencing his 48th birthday. As it happens, he witnessed his father commit suicide on his 48th birthday, something that has haunted him since that day. His brother Conrad (Sean Penn) offers him a voucher for a game from a company called Consumer Recreation Services, telling him that the company changed his life completely.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Nothing Hurts Like Family

Film: The Savages
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

My original plan for the past few days was to watch The Savages last Saturday. I ended up watching The Unsinkable Molly Brown instead because, well, my Blu-ray play crapped out on me. Worse, it wouldn’t turn on or open up, and the disc for The Savages was stuck inside. So here’s what I learned: If this happens to you, unplug the player from the outlet for one minute. Plug it back in, and without turning it on, just hit the eject button. It should pop open. As it happened, my player was fine; it just needed to be reset. So, now that things are working again, I could finally get around to the movie I had planned for three days ago.

I can’t say that I was thrilled with the prospect, honestly. I try to be as neutral as possible for as many films as I can, but there are some things that simply are going to either get me excited or cause me to have some misgivings. In the case of The Savages, my misgivings are twofold. First, I’ve never been a huge fan of Laura Linney. I don’t dislike her in particular; I’ve just never had much of an opinion of her one way or the other. Second, ever since his untimely and senseless death, I’ve been at least a little depressed every time I see Philip Seymour Hoffman. We were supposed to get decades more great movies out of him, and he pissed that away on us. It still hurts.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Film: Arrival
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Since one of my degrees is in linguistics, I’ve been asked about Arrival pretty much since it came out. In fact, one of my professors was interviewed about just how closely the film would track attempting to learn an entirely alien language. It’s worth reading that interview, partly because it offers clearer insight on the science than I could offer and because Dr. Birner is awesome. Either go check it out now and come back, or go there as soon as you’re done here. Really.

Anyway, linguistics is front and center in Arrival. More specifically, as you’ve read or will read, Arrival is a big fan of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, specifically the idea of linguistic determinism. Allow me to get mildly professorial here for just a moment. The lighter, more acceptable (and much more potentially provable) version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that the language that we speak affect the way that we communicate—that how we communicate with others is relative to the language that we speak. It makes a certain sense; it’s a hypothesis (linguistic relativity) that I think is at least partially true. The stronger version, and one that Arrival very much wants to put forth, is that our language determines how we see the world, which goes too far for what Sapir-Whorf can support.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Denver Hillbillies

Film: The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Don’t tell me that I don’t make sacrifices for this blog. My Blu-ray player has evidently gone the way of the dodo, which meant that I wasn’t able to watch the movie I had planned today. Instead, I’m stuck pulling something off the DVR. Normally, on a night when I’m alone in the house, it would be a chance to watch something that my family can’t see—films like Blue is the Warmest Color or Last House on the Left come to mind. In this case, I decided on one that I’d be embarrassed to be caught watching by my family for a different reason: The Unsinkable Molly Brown. I put up with some shit for you folks. Please acknowledge that.

Now, I’m not going to get all “I hate musicals” on you here, although that’s certainly a direction I could go. The Unsinkable Molly Brown is clearly a most musical-y musical with everyone on screen playing for the back row. But no, there are other reasons for me to dislike this film that are absolutely more legitimate, although the absolute feast that everyone makes of the scenery at all times does rank pretty high. The Unsinkable Molly Brown features one of the most unpleasant title characters I’ve run across in a long time, at least in terms of characters that I’m supposed to actually like and root for. What press agents and the like would call “spunk” in this case is something I’m more apt to call a painful need for attention.